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Report: Fracked Gas Project Could Undermine Washington’s Clean Energy Goals
By Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky
Bill McKibben is right. Last summer, the co-founder of climate change organization 350.org penned a Rolling Stone article titled How to Tell If Your Reps Are Serious About Climate Change. One way to tell, said McKibben, is if "[t]hey understand natural gas could be the most dangerous fuel of all."
A new report from the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) on a controversial fracked gas-to-methanol refinery proposed in Washington state confirms McKibben's assertion: the Kalama methanol refinery will not help us achieve a low-carbon future or meet the goals in the Paris agreement. According to the report, approving the Kalama methanol refinery "would not appear to be consistent with globally agreed climate goals of keeping warming at less than 2 degrees Celsius."
The Kalama methanol refinery—the largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery in the world—would cause the equivalent of 3.7 to 7 million tons per year of CO2 pollution, based on 20-year global warming potential. That's over half the carbon footprint of the massive coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington. When the Centralia coal plant closes in 2025, the Kalama methanol project would become Washington's top contributor to climate change.
Backed by the Chinese government, a company called Northwest Innovation Works proposes to refine fracked gas to liquid methanol on the banks of the Columbia River in the Twilight-famous town of Kalama, then ship the methanol to China to produce olefins, a chemical building block for plastic.
The new report casts doubt on claims that the Kalama methanol refinery would replace coal-based methanol production in China and thus benefit the climate. Researchers found that the Kalama facility is just as likely to displace more common—and less emissions-intensive—methods of making plastic. This means that "that the facility would be just as likely to increase global GHG emissions [from other sources] as to decrease them."
Researchers also found that the Kalama methanol refinery could result in emissions that are two to six times higher than estimates in the final Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS"). That's largely because the EIS left out emissions involved in supplying fracked gas to the methanol refinery. "The new analysis provides an opportunity to fix that, and consider all emission impacts in the supplemental review," said SEI senior scientist Peter Erickson, a co-author of the report.
Last fall, a Washington state hearings board ruled that the final EIS was illegal, siding with Columbia Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and Earthjustice. The board ordered a new EIS that fully discloses the methanol refinery's climate impacts. A comment period for the new, climate-focused EIS is open now through Feb. 28. Click here to send in your comment.
The report should be an eye-opener for Washington Governor Jay Inslee; it allows the governor and all Washingtonians to see the true climate cost of this project. Inslee is a leader in the fight against climate change, as demonstrated by his bold commitments to the Paris agreement, state carbon reduction goals, and the introduction of a carbon pollution tax in the Washington legislature. Now Inslee can take a stand against the Kalama methanol refinery and new fracked gas infrastructure that would add stunning new greenhouse gas pollution right here at home.
Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky is the senior organizer of Columbia Riverkeeper.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.
Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.
Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.
SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.
It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.
Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.
In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.
The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).
"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.
The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.
"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
By Karin Kirk
Greenland had quite the summer. It rose from peaceful obscurity to global headliner as ice melted so swiftly and massively that many were left grasping for adjectives. Then, Greenland's profile was further boosted, albeit not to its delight, when President Trump expressed interest in buying it, only to be summarily dismissed by the Danish prime minister.
During that time I happened to be in East Greenland, both as an observer of the stark effects of climate change and as a witness to local dialogue about presidential real estate aspirations, polar bear migrations and Greenland's sudden emergence as a trending topic.
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market. Cirou Frederic / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections / Getty Images
Heavy metals that may damage a developing brain are present in 95 percent of baby foods on the market, according to new research from the advocacy organization Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), which bills itself as an alliance of scientists, nonprofit organizations and donors trying to reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals during the first three years of development.
By Kerstin Palme
Creepy-crawlies are among the oldest life forms on this planet. Before dinosaurs ever walked the earth, insects were certainly already there. Some estimates date their origins to 400 million years ago. They're also extremely successful. Of the 7 to 8 million species documented on Earth, around three quarters are likely bugs.
But several insect species could disappear for good in the next few decades and that would have serious consequences for humans.
Volvo introduced its first-ever all-electric vehicle this week, kicking off an ambitious plan to slash emissions and phase out solely gas-powered vehicles starting this year.
The report, released Wednesday, found that almost every European who lives in a city is exposed to unhealthy air, Reuters reported.